In a legal document filed Monday with the New York State Supreme Court, Carla Franklin, 34, a business consultant and Columbia Business School graduate, seeks Google's help to identify people who posted defamatory comments on a YouTube channel dedicated to her that started appearing online in 2009.
Last year, as Franklin was hunting for a job, one or more people created a YouTube account displaying clips of Franklin in an independent film, said her attorney David Fish. Simultaneously, a YouTube user named "greyspector09" commented on a Columbia Business School YouTube video featuring Franklin and wrote "whore" next to clips of Franklin.
The YouTube channel and the comments have been removed from the Web, but the court documents allege that the posts and comments "impute a lack of chastity" and the video damaged her business prospects and personal relationships.
"All of this is sort of happening at the same time when she's in graduate business school looking to get a job and she's hearing from friends and colleagues, 'what's going on,'" Fish said. "It can be kind of scary -- why is somebody doing this? Is it going to escalate?"
"[Franklin's] not looking for a dime," said Fish. "She's angry, obviously, and hurt, and she wants this person to be exposed. And she kind of wants to send a message that, going forward, if you're going to post something about somebody be sure it's true and we'll know who you are."
Google spokesman Brian Richardson said the company doesn't talk about specific cases to protect its users.
"When we receive a subpoena or court order, we check to see if it meets both the letter and the spirit of the law before complying. And if doesn't we can object or ask that the request is narrowed," he said. "We have a track record of advocating on behalf of our users."
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Fish said they have a fairly good idea of who is behind the online bullying, but they want Google's help so that they can confirm the identity of the person or persons.
"She's not really suing Google and YouTube, that's not what's going on here," he said. "She's just asking for information."
On Sept. 2, Google will have the opportunity to explain in court why the information should not be disclosed. But Fish hopes the company will cooperate.
"I believe/hope that they're just not going to show up or they're going to not object in some way," he said. "I would love it if they just gave the information now. They would save the court time."
If Franklin succeeds in unmasking the online culprits, she wouldn't be the first to declare victory over anonymous Internet bashing.
Last summer, Vogue cover model Liskula Cohen successfully sued Google to uncover the name of an anonymous blogger who wrote the words "skanky," "ho" and "whoring" beneath her online photographs. When Google disclosed the IP address, Cohen learned that the blogger was an acquaintance of hers.
"My hope is that this precedent ,and if something positive happens here, people are just going to be less likely to do this," said Fish. "Of course you're always going to have your nuts and, I guess as technology advances, they say the bad guys are one step ahead and will find out ways to do this anonymously, but if we make it a little more difficult or if they feel a little more like they will be exposed, I think less people will do it."